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Jonathan Short, the founder of plastics recycling company ECO Plastics, who appeared in front of the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee inquiry, said that Government cuts have led to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to pull back from making urgently needed policy reforms, just at the point when they are needed the most.

England’s progress towards the EU target of recycling 50 percent of household waste has slowed significantly, rising just 0.1 percent in the 12 months to June 2013 to reach 43.3 percent.

At the same time, figures from WRAP, the Government funded body set-up to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill, show that only 19 percent of the 600 million tons of total products and materials entering the UK economy each year are recycled, creating a significant opportunity for higher recycling rates.

“At the end of last year, the Government announced it was no longer going to focus on reforming policy due to funding cuts, just at the point when the recycling sector needs it the most,” said Jonathan Short, founder and deputy chairman of plastic bottle recycler ECO Plastics.

“That needs to change, if we are serious about hitting our recycling targets. We need fundamental changes to the regulatory system, a dedicated educational campaign for consumers and a mandate for manufacturers to use recycled products, if we are to maximize our recycling capability in the UK and establish a truly circular economy.”

Short believes the Government should take action in three ways in order to drive successful change.

Firstly, he argues that the current system of incentives that encourage companies to recycle needs urgent reform. The Packaging Recycling Notes and Packaging Export Recycling Notes system encourages the export of resource waste ahead of domestic recycling, placing UK reprocessing companies at a commercial disadvantage. As a result, diminished financial returns hinder much needed investment in reprocessing infrastructure. Furthermore, on-going uncertainty over crucial legislation, particularly export regulations, means that the finance community is highly unlikely to feel comfortable enough to provide the capital to fund further projects.

Secondly, Government needs to put recycling – and the creation of a sustainable, circular economy – at the center of economic policy. Growing the recycling sector to deliver a circular economy not only retains the economic value of resource waste in the UK – it also helps develop an economy that is self-sufficient and secure. However, departmental cuts have meant that the Government has pulled back on the recycling and waste resource policy agenda – just at the point when it needs to be doing more to create a sector that is sustainable economically as well as environmentally.

Finally, Short believes that the Government should do more to make it easier for households to recycle resource waste by using the controversial plastic bag tax to fund a nationwide public awareness campaign.

Short said, “The Government could finance a campaign using the VAT revenue collected by central Government as part of the Single-Use Plastic Bag Charge. The Government will collect almost £20m per year from the VAT element of the charge. Even a fraction of that revenue would be sufficient for an effective campaign which ECO Plastics estimates would encourage a further £50m of plastic bottles collected per year and deliver a savings in landfill tax alone of £20m a year.”

Published in the September 2014 Edition of American Recycler News